Let us be clear, I am definitely in the midlife gamer demographic. My earliest gaming memory is playing a wood effect Atari at my Nan’s, the first system I owned was a rubber key speccy with the 6 game pack (Horace Goes Skiing was rubbish even then!)
However, I gave up gaming at a tender age, lured by the triple crown of beer, women and Warhammer 40K. I missed out on the 8-bit console age, was only partially aware of the Megadrive/SNES war, and the age of Doom on the PC completely passed me by.
However, in 1997, the “little grey box” lured me in with its stunning graphics and big-breasted heroine, and I have never looked back. The big gap in my gaming experience, coupled with not really being aware of what was going on in the speccy days, has left with a consuming desire for all things retro.
Herein lies the problem: I love reading about old games, finding out the links between modern games and their progenitors, looking at obscure hardware and how characters have changed. I am addicted to reading about how revolutionary Street Fighter II was, or how The Secret of Monkey Island changed people’s lives forever. Actually playing these games is a different matter.
Here is a controversial opinion: Most retro games are rubbish. I will now wait whilst lots of you start shouting abuse at your screens and log off in disgust. However, by modern standards old games are limited, often too hard and of poor quality. This doesn’t mean they are unimportant, just as the Model T Ford is important. You wouldn’t want one for your daily commute though.
So why are some retro games still awesome, and others just great at the time? Mostly it comes down to game design. Lots of games were (and still are) dependent on their technology to impress, and this obviously cannot stand the test of time. Examples are Speedball 2, Mercenary, Virtua Fighter. These all were top games at the time, but now seem very limited and not very entertaining.
Other games have classic design, that transcend graphics. Super Mario Bros, Tomb Raider and Elite are all still playable today. Many Nintendo and Capcom games exemplify this perfectly, Street Fighter II is still amazing, even if you are rubbish at fighting games like me. Legend of Zelda, links awakening is an old game on limited hardware, yet still captivates nearly 20 years later.
So if most old games are rubbish, why do I buy magazines, spend money on compilations and downloadable games, and still have my old speccy in the loft? Because just like old sci-fi films cannot hope to match the CGI of Avatar, watching them can inform and give context to the latest classics, old games should be celebrated as the forefathers of the modern games we love so much.
Where would Black Ops be without Doom? Would we have Assassin’s Creed without Prince of Persia? Retro games are awesome, but sometimes they should be worshipped from afar, lest their memory be sullied by actually playing them!